Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Don't You Drink More Sake?

Earlier this week, I had a delightful tasting session and discussion in New York with Henry Sidel, founder and president of Joto Sake, which imports and distributes small-batch Japanese sake producers in about 30 states. I will be writing more about sake in other publications soon, but there were several topics that came up that I would like to open to discussion now. If you have thoughts and opinions, please (1) comment below, (2) send me a message on Facebook, or (3) write me a note at

Sidel has an extensive trade background in spirits and beer, but decided a few years ago to devote his energies to sake. Although we tasted several great drinks (my favorites were those brewed by Chikurin and Watari Bune) and went through sake production (a necessity, still), I was much more interested in how the consumption of sake can grow beyond the coterie of people who like sushi and sashimi or who have a fetish for small ceramic cups.

I will save for future articles what Sidel has to say on these topics, but here are some questions I posed to him. I would like to know what you think, whether or not you're a regular sake drinker.

1. Does sake need to be Westernized - for example, not drunk from small ceramic cups and paired only with Japanese food - to become successful, or is "being different" a neccesary part of it's charm, which, if abandoned, would mean less acceptance?

2. Does your everyday consumer - the same one who doesn't care about whether her Chardonnay went through malolactic fermentation - need to know the intricacies of what grains are used for sake and how it is made?

3. In restaurants, would sake be more successful if it were simply sold by the glass - say two different styles on the bar list?

4. Along the same line, does offering sake only by the bottle (even a small one), as is now generally done, psychologically ask the consumer for a commitment when by the glass would allow merely a passing curiosity?

5. And would it be appreciated more if there were a Riedel glass designed for it? Seriously?

6. How can retail stores better display bottles of sake so that they don't look as disorganized as roadside accident memorials?

7. Are sommeliers willing to suggest a bottle of Watari Bune Junmai Ginjo with duck breast (which would be a good pairing) rather than a wine?

8. Knowing that most good sakes are served chilled, would you rather have a mug of very warm and basic futsu-shu sake on a cold day than an Irish coffee or mulled cider? Is warm sake neccessary bad or gauche?

9. A variation of an early question: if the 6-10 different styles, or combos of styles, have recognizable similarities of taste, will people be willing to remember such basic categories as honjozo, ginjo and junmai ginjo, which are also easy to pronounce?

10. We are used to drinking wines with meals more than other alcoholic beverages. Sake can be a little more alcoholic, so are we willing to "sip" as we eat rather than "drink" when we eat?

Just some questions. Let me know what you think.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

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